Chicago Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine was officially announced as a 2021 Eastern Conference All-Star reserve on Tuesday night. It’s LaVine’s first All-Star selection after he missed the cut last season with the festivities in Chicago, and he’s the Bulls’ first All-Star since Jimmy Butler in 2017.
LaVine was fourth among East guards in the voting for starters, leaving it up to the coaches to pick him as a reserve. There was plenty of debate over whether he would make it in a crowded field, but he cemented his All-Star status with a dynamite February up to this point as part of a breakout season that’s making a case for him to get a max contract in the near future.
In 12 February games, the 25-year-old is posting averages of 31.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists while shooting 52.7% from the field and 46.7% on 3-pointers. For the season, he’s averaging 28.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting 51.8% overall and 43.4% from 3-land. These are historic numbers:
Helping LaVine’s cause is the fact that the Bulls are actually winning games and overachieving, especially with their recent injuries. After a rough start to the 2020-21 season, Chicago is up to 14-16 and the No. 8 spot in the East. The Bulls have won four of their last five games to get to this point, with the one loss a hard-fought defeat against the top-seeded Philadelphia 76ers.
LaVine has long been a tantalizing talent with explosive scoring ability, but his flaws gave him a reputation as an empty-calorie scorer who didn’t make a positive impact on winning. The criticisms were mostly warranted in recent seasons as the Bulls racked up losses even as he made improvements, with poor decision-making and shoddy defense still limiting his overall impact.
However, LaVine has truly made a leap this season in just about every area of his game under new head coach Billy Donovan. His efficiency (64.8% true shooting) is otherworldly given his usage (30.3%) and the amount of tough shots he takes. He’s a more advanced playmaker and improved defender, so he has mitigated prior weaknesses while improving on his strengths.
In terms of impacting winning, while LaVine’s on-court net rating is still in the negative for the season at minus-1.7, per NBA.com, it’s a plus-6.0 in February and Chicago has had a lot of success when he’s on the court with Thaddeus Young and the other veterans. Young has been a revelation for the Bulls, and they’ve outscored opponents by 9.8 points per 100 possessions in 457 minutes with the veteran forward and LaVine on the court together. Putting LaVine with other good players means a lot more success for Chicago.
With all this in mind, the Bulls should be fully prepared to commit a max deal to LaVine instead of trading him. Chicago should still listen to trade offers and do the proper due diligence, but the team shouldn’t be out looking to make a deal. It should take a true Godfather offer to make the Bulls even think about a trade.
Chicago will have options when it comes to maxing LaVine out in the future. He’s set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2022, but the Bulls could use cap space this offseason to offer a max extension that would pay him nearly $152 million over four years. Barring something crazy, they should be prepared to make this offer. LaVine could very well prefer to hit free agency, and in that case, Chicago should try to do its best to convince him to stick around for his prime years.
The Bulls finally have another All-Star in Zach LaVine, and now it’s up to Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley to build a contender with him as a centerpiece.